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translation of post at Ukulele Boudoir

Kurt Hoffman

Interview with a hot rabbit who loves to draw


While in France we're debating endlessly about whether one should sing in the language of Moliere or that of Madonna, Les Chauds Lapins have found the perfect equilibrium by making a specialty of reinterpreting the charming French songs of the 20s or 30s with a bit of a Brooklyn accent.

Kurt Hoffman, co-founder, co-singer and co-ukuleleist of the group, and erstwhile draghtsman, has generously reponded to our questions and offers us a previously unpublished illustration, 'Les Chauds Lapins at the Beginning of Autumn'.

Bonjour Kurt, what instruments do you play?

Kurt Hoffman: At the moment, I mostly play banjo uke, an instrument made by Epiphone ("House of Stathopoulos") in the 20s. But like most uke players, I've got a lot of ukes. I have a no-name hawaiian koa uke I really like, but generally, I find the sound of banjo ukes more complex and beautiful, tinted in amber. I prefer a style of playing that's lighter than that of George Formby, who everyone associates with the banjo uke, sadly.

With my partner Meg Reichardt, I have a group called "Les Chauds Lapins". Meg plays banjo uke with this group, a large Bruno. It's really a 'tango banjo', but it's tuned like a ukulele.
You can hear it on this track, "Mon Rêve C'était Vous".
Last year she bought a koa uke (a Nunes). You can hear her Nunes and my Epiphone on this song Meg wrote called 'Cette Nuit-là'.

My parents couldn't afford a piano, and we lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of southern Italians, and therefore many accordion schools. That's why my first instrument was the accordion. As an adult, I mostly played saxophone (tenor and baritone), and clarinet. I learned to compose and write arrangements. I write the arrangements for Les Chauds Lapins.

I've also played and written arrangements for They Might Be Giants and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. I composed film scores and music for my own projects. in the 80s, I had a group called 'The Ordinaires'. We played minimalist, post-modern, noisy music, but we also did a cover of Led Zepellin's Kashmir. The cellist, Garo Yellin, currently plays with Les Chauds Lapins. In the video, that's me you see painting on the beach.

What's the first piece you learned?

When I was a kid, my dad had a plastic uke on which I learned "Way Down Upon the Swanee River". In 2002, as an adult, I began to learn French. It was around then that I discovered Charles Trenet and I bought a ukulele. The first song I attempted was 'Menilmontant'.

What do you like to listen to?

I love many things: the chamber music of Morton Feldman, Beethoven's string quartets, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, minimalist techno... I collect 78s, and I love dance orchestras from the 20s. At the moment my favorite is the Six Jumping Jacks and the other ensembles of Harry Reser. I also love the big stars from Paris in 20s, 30s, 40s, like Jean Sablon, Lucienne Boyer, Mistinguett, Trenet, and other less well known singers like Jean Tranchant.

What memory is most linked to music?

Hard to say since my life has been so linked to music. But okay, in my old appartment in the East Village of Manhattan, I had a bathtub in my living room, next to my turntable. I remember taking a bath and listening to Symphony 4 by Charles Ives.

What are you drawing at the moment?

I'm in the process of drawing a series of outdoor drawings, mostly trees.

Do you have musical projects underway?

Les Chauds Lapins just finished recording their second album. It's going to come out in February on Barbes Records, a label based in Brooklyn. Peifu Chen, a director of Chinese music videos, is working on a video of our version of 'Presque Oui'. And as Meg and I need to find more songs to learn, we've started working on one by Jean Tranchant that I love, "Au Rendez-Vous".

Anyway, every year Meg organizes a winter holiday party at her house, where each guest has to write a song and record it during the party with the other musicians present. So I have to write a Christmas song very soon. Here are the recordings from last year's event.